HOUSTON - A hard look at citizen police review boards in five major Texas cities produced a harsh assessment of the civilian oversight panel here in the state's largest city.
The study conducted by the respected Kinder institute found the Independent Houston Police Oversight Board lacked the degree of independence, transparency, and resources to be effective and worthy of public trust.
"They effectively operate under a code of silence," said Stephen Sherman, co-author of the report.
Sherman says without support staff and the ability to independently investigate incidents, Houston's current civilian review board relies almost exclusively on reports from HPD Internal Affairs.
It's a clear lack of autonomy that defies "best practices" and erodes public trust.
"When you have full-time staff monitors, they can look more closely not just at individual instances, but also perhaps the policies that might lead to these instances. You don't want people who are going to take one side regardless of the evidence. You want people who can weigh evidence, who think critically about police work, but who also aren't afraid to tell people, either police or civilians, those things they might not want to hear," said Sherman.
The Kinder research bolsters the recent findings of Mayor Sylvester Turner's Police Reform Task Force which recommended the current review board be transformed into a publicly funded, independent, investigative entity to promote transparency, deter officer misconduct, and ensure accessibility to citizens seeking accountability.
City Council Member Caroline Evans-Shabazz believes a tear-down and re-build of the review board is essential to regenerating ruptured trust in law enforcement.
"In these times when people are just really not trusting the process transparency and independence are just at the top of the food chain, so to speak," said Evans-Shabazz.
The Kinder report found civilian police review boards in Dallas, Austin, and Ft. Worth adhered to established national standards of independence while the boards in Houston and San Antonio did not.